For our church’s 20th Anniversary, I got most of the staff together to shoot a LipDub video. (A LipDub video is a lip-synched video shot all in one take, usually involving lots of people and props.) While ours isn’t the best LipDub out there, I’m proud of our staff and my team of helpers and what they pulled off! We had a blast making it. And now, both of you who read my blog can see how it all came together, and almost came apart.
First, the video:
The story of the making of this video begins over a year ago. Somewhere I saw a Johnny Walker Scotch video. It was remarkable. In a single 6 and a half minute take, an actor walking down a rural Scottish road recounted the entire history of Johnny Walker Scotch, passing various props along the way that represented the history.
My boss is the communications director at our church. He and I met to make sure we were thinking ahead to our church’s 20th Anniversary, which would require lots of video, and would also coincide with a capital campaign. He asked if I had any ideas for videos. I sure did. I showed him the Johnny Walker video and wondered if we might do something similar, walking people through 20 years of our church’s history using props, instead of having a narrator telling the story over historical footage. We both liked the idea, but knew a) it would be a tough sell, and b) we’d still probably need the expected church history video that used archival footage. So he gave me the greenlight to shoot for the moon, both of us knowing there would be some hurdles, and not holding too tightly to the idea.
It occurred to me that our church’s buildings reflected milestones in the church’s history, and that instead of being outside, to do a stroll through the buildings would make sense. Props could represent the other stages of the church’s growth.
The Idea Solidifies
At about this same time, I saw two other videos that helped shape the direction. The Pink Glove video is what made me think, “We need more people. Lots of people. People who can’t dance.” This would be mo better than just one narrator. And then, I found a LipDub. A college in Canada put it together. And it was awesome. I knew what we had to do.
I quickly decided on a song, DC Talk’s 1992 song Jesus Is Still Alright. Why? Three reasons.
- It’s a great song.
- It’s a great message for a church celebrating its 20th Anniversary. After 20 years, Jesus is indeed still alright.
- It ain’t that hard to learn, except for 3 rap sections. I could get people to cover those.
The song’s origins go back further than I thought. I just thought it was a cover of a Doobie Brothers’ song. Nope. The Oracle says otherwise.
From here, it was all about buy-in. I casually slipped in, “Hey, here’s this crazy idea…” in a couple of meetings, and the response was always enthusiastic. So I turned serious, and held some feet to the fire. I had some conversations, going up the ladder, that said, “If we’re doing this, then we need to commit to it. It’s too many people giving too much time to shoot it and then decide if we’ll use it.”
That ladder went all the way to the Sr. Pastor. And he bought in, provided it didn’t impact any of the other 15 or so videos we’d be developing for our Capital Campaign. Gulp. And I had 10 days of vacation and a trip to Africa coming up before the shooting.
Fortunately, I had already assembled a team. I just found a bunch of funny people, said, “You in?”, made up a secret hand shake so they’d feel special, and they were on board. These people became critical to pulling this off. Why? Because there was no way I was going to be able to do it by myself. We divided the song into chunks, and they got to own their chunk. I would show up 5 weeks later with a camera, put it together, and see what would happen. Okay, the process wasn’t that simple, but it’s not that far from the truth, either.
Another key component was filming a prototype. An out-of-town friend offered to help, and we walked through the church, checking the timing, and made a sample video. This is the video I eventually put on a webpage (you can see it here), shared with my leaders, with the worship team, and eventually, with the whole staff. Having sample videos and a prototype of ours was key to selling the concept.
On filming day, I saw my role as Cheerleader-in-Chief. CEO of fun-ness. We gathered in the chapel, gave a brief over-view, and mentioned where we’d need some higher concentrations of people, if they didn’t have a place already. (Some sections and people had met to practice their section earlier.) We practiced how the very end would happen, and what they all had to sing. Then I gave an enthusiastic reminder of why such silliness actually mattered, and that it’s fitting to celebrate what God has done. With a brief prayer, we were off to our stations.
For 2 hours I walked around with a small DSLR camera on a steadi-cam stick thing, checking shots, angles, and people density. Some people didn’t show, and there were some large gaps. We decided to add the classroom to the beginning, which threw off lots of timing later on. Our horse couldn’t come, and we scrambled to get a last-minute replacement. Clouds rolled in and wind picked up. It looked as though the sky would open up any second. It was getting darker outside.
I realized my camera choice was bad. I love shooting with DSLRs, but it can only focus manually, which is impossible to do while running, and with the wind picking up outside, I couldn’t hold it steady enough. At the last second, thanks to a co-worker, we grabbed a little HD camera and another steadicam contraption and were up and running.
Then by the time I was finally ready for the first take, the CD player wouldn’t start. For what seemed an eternity. It turns out, the Walkie-Talkies we were using would cause the CD player to simply shut down.
Take 1 went okay. A couple of mistakes here and there, but a good effort. The biggest problem was the ending. The folks on the stage blew their entrance. It was a disaster.
Setting up for take 2, I was worn out. My arm felt like jello. Take 2 went pretty good. I made note of one section I wanted to make a fairly drastic change to, and felt bad that I messed up one guy’s timing by shouting a cue at the wrong time. The staff was off on their ending again, but it was better. They couldn’t hear the boombox, which also had skipped twice. Some staff were ready to get back to work. “Let’s do one more take, and I think we’ll have it in the can!” I shouted.
“Nope. The horse is gone,” I was told. The owner took the horse away, because it was getting a little spooked.
“Then that’s a wrap!” I shouted. “Thanks so much, everyone!”
I knew the take we had was good enough, and the little trip-ups could be fixed. And they were. There are 3 sections where the timing is slightly adjusted. I also digitally zoomed in on the signs sooner, so they’d be more readable. And I took another audio track of everyone singing at the end, and re-timed the video so the final shouts match. You can’t tell from looking, but when the camera’s at the back of the room, the mouths aren’t even close to in sync with the sound. But it’s still all one take, fair and honest.
I’m so grateful to my team that helped make it happen. It’s the biggest cast I’ve ever had for a video, and the night before, I couldn’t sleep. If you’re going to fail, fail spectacularly, right? But all the staff were heroic, some just by standing around for 2 1/2 hours without complaining.
I learned a lot through this. Plan early. Use examples. Make a prototype. Get a team. Be enthusiastic. And roll with the punches. These seem like they’d be good lessons for any large undertaking.
A behind the scenes video can be seen here: